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Earth Keepers Activities:
When Lightning Comes in a Jar

By Susan Mallette

Catch lightning in a jar, tell stories, measure each other, design a photo album, have a bag race and cook a JELL-O® salad after reading Patricia Polacco’s memorable tale about family traditions passing to each generation.

Title: When Lightning Comes in a Jar by Patricia Polacco

Themes: Family traditions, fireflies, picnic games

Summary: Gramma promises to tell Trisha and the cousins how to catch lightning in a jar.

Ages: For ages 4-8

Catch lightning bugs in a jar
Literature Connection: “’Fireflies!’ we all called out. We grabbed our jars and the dash was on to capture lightning and put it in a jar.”

What you need
A clear plastic jar with a lid
A summer night
Lightning bugs

What to do
Wait for a summer night in July, August or September and observe the fireflies glowing just above the grass but no higher than the trees. Catch a few in a jar, put the lid on and observe their glow. Be sure and let the fireflies out of the jar after a few minutes so they can continue to light the night.

Fireflies are beetles. They light up to attract mates. Almost all of the males’ abdomen light up, while only the middle portion of the females’ bodies glow. The larva (called wireworms) of the lightning bug also lights up but not as brilliant as the adult firefly.

On special summer night occasions in Cuba, women often wear fireflies stuck in nets on their hair.

Language Arts
Write and illustrate family stories

Literature Connection: The older relatives at the family reunion took turns telling stories about their lives to the children. Gramma told about the first time she saw a flying machine (airplane). Aunt Adah told about he first time she rode in a car. Aunt Ivah told about the time she saw a rattlesnake.

What you need:
Pencil, crayons or markers

What to do
Tell some stories to your children about some memorable events in your life -- the first time you swam in the ocean or flew on the a plane or ate frog legs or some uncommon food. Remind the children to ask relatives to tell stories about their lives. Have children tell stories about their own lives. Try writing down some of your family stories. Children will enjoy drawing pictures to go with the stories.

Practice measuring.

Literature Connection

“Grampa waved a yardstick in the air. All of us kids dropped what we were doing and ran to the milk shed. We knew it was time to get measured.”

What you need
A yardstick or measuring tape
The side of a door or wall or a strip of paper attached to the wall with tape

What to do
Measure the children and make a mark for their height. Add their age and the date. Every six months or year, measure again and do the same. Show the children how much they have grown. Many young children will enjoy measuring you and each other and learning about inches and feet and yards.

Arts and Crafts
Make a family photo album.

Literature Connection
“Aunt Bertha had gone to the house and fetched all the family portrait albums.”

What you need
Family pictures
Crayons or markers
Glue or glue stick

What to do
Cut paper to form a small book. Sew or staple the paper together so the pages turn easily. Help your child paste picture of family members and themselves in the paper book. Be sure to help your child write the names of the people in the photographs underneath each picture. Show your child how to decorate the cover of her photo album.

Fun and Games
Have a bag race.

Literature Connection
“After we ate it was time for our annual baseball game … Next it was time for croquet … We had bag races, watermelon-seed-spitting contests and rides on Grandpa’s draft horse too.”

What you need
Pillow cases

What to do
Each child gets inside a pillow case and hops to a finish line!

Make orange JELL-O® salad.

Literature Connection
“’Wonder how many JELL-O® salads there will be?’ my cousin Freddie asked. ‘Gazillions. There always are,’ my cousin Billy answered. Sure enough, there were gazillions. They jumped and shook every time we bumped the table. They seemed alive.”

What you need
1 package of orange JELL-O®
1 cup of boiling water
1/2 cup of sugar
1 small can of crushed pineapple
1 can of Mandarin oranges
1/ 2 pint of sour cream

What to do
Mix JELL-O®, sugar and boiling water until dissolved. Add other ingredients and pour into a Bundt cake pan. Chill several hours before serving.

Natural Parenting Tip
Children love traditions. The anticipation of doing the same thing they remember doing last year or last time you went to an event gives them security. They feel comfortable knowing what is going to happen giving them the freedom to enjoy themselves.

Try creating some traditions of your own. Have a family reunion day -- immediate family works great, too. Keep it simple. At the request of our children, my husband and I celebrate the day we met each year. We make Grandma’s soup, plant a tree, eat spice cake and look at photo albums. Try creating a family day of your own each year. You’ll make some traditions your children can pass on to their sons and daughters and in the process create some great memories!

© Susan Mallette

Susan Regan Mallette, a former English teacher, spends her time homeschooling, writing curriculum and homemaking. See more about Susan.


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